The following was written by a Stein Hospice Volunteer. It has been gently edited for brevity —
When I tell people that I volunteer for Stein Hospice, I get a sense that they are complimenting me with their eyes. They comment on how “nice it is” of me to do this or “how selfless of you.” But it’s not like that at all. Just the opposite, in fact. This chapter in my life is purely selfish.
As an Emergency Medicine practitioner for over a decade, death is not a foreign subject to me. After witnessing countless unsuccessful cardiac arrests, physical demise of familial matriarchs or breadwinners, I became desensitized, numb and stopped feeling human. I saw entire families change their dynamics in the blink of an eye. The fragility of our lives could not be more evident to me. I have the luxury to say that I’ve seen enough to know that death is a part of life, inevitable and, at times, a road one must take alone. And of all people…I was not ready to accept that.
Although I’m familiar with death itself, what is foreign to me is the personal process which occurs for a patient as they are going to it. That is the lone concept that scares me the most. The changes one has to go through, the dependency one must attain to move, or to take one last sip of water, or feel a human touch and the utter loneliness of the road. So, in order to face my fears….I joined a team of elite providers and volunteers who give a caring touch, companionship or just a reprieve.
What I discovered in this very selfish move of mine is the reward. It’s the completely unexpected euphoria, sense of purpose and ability to embrace this inevitable path we will all take.
When I came to visit Mrs B, my 100-year old patient every week to sit and talk, her philosophy on the simplicity of life struck me. Every time I visit her, she would say, “..tomorrow is another day.” She found frustration in her predicament, depending on others and yet, in the same breath, continued to adamantly proclaim her independence to the staff that she “doesn’t have to go to the dining room if I don’t want to!”
Mrs. B was a lady of utmost manners. She would scold me on my posture. She is of the day where working at the age of 16 to support the family was the norm. And don’t even get her started on my gum-chewing habits. As she approached her 100th birthday, it was not the big party in the main hall with over 100 people that elated her; it wasn’t the card from our Nation’s President that validated her; it was her son visiting from Texas. A simple visit from him is what made her day.
She taught me that we will all approach this inevitable demise of our current lives, be it painful, quiet or haunting. But the less we resist, the easier the path will be. I hope I’m half the person she is when my time is here.
Thank you, Mrs. B. Thank you for teaching me to appreciate the ability to utilize all my faculties. Thank you for allowing me to spend time with you. Thank you for teaching me what is truly important. Although I continue to be given the title of volunteer, the hour I spend with the countless Mrs. B’s are my most gifted moments.
Do you want to make a positive difference in your community? Wilf Campus offers a variety of opportunities to share your time and talent with our assisted living residents and hospice patients in central New Jersey. View our volunteer opportunities and call us at 732-568-1155. You may also download our Volunteer Brochure.